Showing posts with label author visit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label author visit. Show all posts

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Humor Hooks Readers: book recommendations from the Bay Area Book Fest (ages 6-10)

We had a terrific time at the Bay Area Book Fest this weekend, and I want to share the book recommendations for funny books. Megan McDonald, Travis Nichols and LeUyen Pham were all so funny, thoughtful and kind. I was honored to facilitate this conversation.
Putting the FUN in Reading (downloadable PDF)
Funny picture books
The Bear Who Wasn't There, by LeUyen Pham
Betty's Burgled Bakery, by Travis Nichols
Disgusting Critters series, by Elise Gravel
Niño Wrestles the World, by Yuyi Morales

Funny chapter books
Dory Fantasmagory, by Abby Hanlon
Judy Moody Was In a Mood, by Megan McDonald
Princess in Black, by Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham
Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid, by Megan McDonald
Unicorn Rescue Society, by Adam Gidwitz

Funny graphic novels
Astronaut Academy, by Dave Roman
Babymouse, by Jennifer Holm
Bird & Squirrel, by James Burks
Phoebe & Her Unicorn, by Dana Simpson
Travis and Uyen both started drawing from a very early age, using pictures to tell stories. Drawing was really important to both of them as they tried to find their place in the world. Uyen talked about how she was very shy and realized that her classmates really liked the drawings she could do. She even started selling her drawings of popular movie characters to classmates!

I especially loved how Megan talked about the humor in Judy Moody stemming from how readers can relate to Judy. Megan read aloud the very beginning of Judy Moody Was In a Mood, and talked about how everyone knows how awful it is to be in a bad mood. But we can also laugh at how grumpy Judy gets. So while we're empathizing with her, we're also laughing at ourselves in a safe and gentle way.

A large part of humor is in the timing. With picture books, illustrators really work at using the page turn to create tension and set up the punchline. They also really play with kids' expectations and then turning the tables. We had a blast listening to some of the kids' jokes!
Listening to kids tell jokes.
Cracking up with the punchline!
(photo credit: Armin Arethna)
I also loved how they all agreed on the importance of pictures in creating the humor that hooks kids. Uyen emphasized how reading the pictures and seeing the funny setups there was just as important as reading the words. She read some of The Itchy Book!, her newest book that's part of the Elephant & Piggie Like Reading series. That's a really important message to share with young kids who are struggling with decoding. They bring so much to the story by figuring out what's happening in the pictures!

Travis talked about how his newest book Betty's Burgled Bakery started from a failure. He was struggling with the followup to Foul Play, trying to focus the story on idioms, when it came to him how alliteration might be funnier and easier for kids to get. This makes me think about the way Uyen described incorporating her mistakes in artwork. She really likes doing artwork by hand and not just the computer, because the mistakes make her more creative and bring even more out of her drawings.

Many thanks to Travis, Uyen and Megan for their time, humor and kind spirits. Many thanks to the publishers for sponsoring their time, and to the Bay Area Book Festival for inviting us all to speak with kids and families. And many thanks to my friends and family who came out to support me! If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Putting the FUN in Reading! at the Bay Area Book Festival, April 28th (ages 7-10)

We all like doing the things we have fun with. Psychoanalysts might call this the "Pleasure Principle," but I call it common sense. So how do we help our kids discover the fun in reading? Come join me in conversation with four terrific authors/illustrators at the Bay Area Book Festival this weekend.
Join me in hearing from LeUyen Pham, Megan McDonald, Travis Nichols and Judd Winnick about how they make reading fun for kids. It's sure to be a great session, with stories about Judy Moody, Hilo, crime-fighting princesses and wordplay in the bakery.
These authors and illustrators bring their sense of fun to picture books, short chapter books, and graphic novels. I'm looking forward to asking them about how they focus on the fun in reading. Comedy is truly an art form! Come enjoy a laugh with us and learn about the magic ingredients in their storytelling.
Putting the FUN in Reading! 
with LeUyen Pham, Megan McDonald, Travis Nichols
Bay Area Book Festival
The Marsh Arts Center, 2120 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA
Sunday, April 29, 11:45am - 1:00 pm
LeUyen Pham illustrates the Princess in Black series with Shannon Hale, as well as the terrific graphic novel Real Friends. She's also the author of several picture books. Megan McDonald writes the Judy Moody and Stink books, bringing shenanigans and hijinks, along with real life struggles, to every chapter. Travis Nichols combines word play, comic book panels and crisp, clever capers into punchy picture books like Betty's Burgled Bakery. And Judd Winick is the author of our favorite Hilo graphic novels.

Everyone loves a good joke. We're going to put them to the test and ask each of them to share a joke. And then we'll turn the tables, to ask the audience to come up with a few jokes.

We'll also look at why visual comedy is so important for kids. You'll notice that all of these books use pictures to pack a punch. How do illustrations add to the reading experience for kids?

Finally, we'll brainstorm together ways to keep reading fun. Bring your kids and let them join the creative fun we'll have together! Hope to see you on Sunday in Berkeley!

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Reading on my own! Beginning reader series @AASL17 (ages 6-9)

Today I’m moderating a panel: Reading On My Own! Beginning Reader Series. We will talk with Megan McDonald (Judy Moody), Fran Manushkin (Katie Woo), Dori Butler (Kayla & King) and Richard Haynes (Slingshot & Burp) about writing for kids who are just beginning their reading journeys.
These authors sparkling with humor and wit, and they create books that are accessible and supportive for new readers. For these readers, a series helps create a comfortable, predictable story environment, but these authors' fresh, funny stories keep readers coming back wanting to read more.

Please add to this padlet ( and share ideas on terrific books to share with developing readers. Our readers at this stage need to read such a volume of books, that we need to help our developing readers find more to read. I like to think of them as book friends.

Follow along the tweets to hear all about the conversation: #AASL17 #Road2Reading.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Nikki Grimes' poetry resonates with Berkeley students (ages 13-18)

Nikki Grimes visited three schools in Berkeley last week, sharing her powerful poetry and celebrating the poets of the Harlem Renaissance. She read from One Last Word, her newest book which combines poems from the Harlem Renaissance with her own original poems.

Her voice was rich and resonate, passionate and purposeful as she spoke with students at Willard Middle School, Longfellow Middle School and Maybeck High School. Nikki connected with them right away, talking about the importance of honoring women's achievements. Just as the movie Hidden Figures shows, historians and the press have often downplayed the significant accomplishments of women.
Students in Berkeley care deeply about social justice issues, and Nikki's poems resonated with them. Grimes tackles difficult issues head-on. She read her poem "Crucible of Champions," in which her character Jamal speaks directly about the violence and brutality that has led to the "Black Lives Matter" campaign:
"The evening news never spares us. Tune in and we
hear: if you're a boy and you're black, you live
with a target on your back. We each take it in and
shiver, one sharp-bladed question hanging overhead: how
long do I get to walk on this earth? The smell of death is too intense,
And so we bury the thought, because the future is
ours, right? We get to choose? Well, we choose life."
Bill Webb, director of the Maybeck High School, remarked how impressed he was by Nikki's "frank, wise bearing." She didn't give easy answers as she responded to students' questions. When aspiring poets asked about how she found inspiration, she told students not to wait for inspiration to strike, but rather to read as much as they could. Look at how other people write, she suggested, and try writing poems in response. As she told students,
"The power you seek is in sight."
It was truly an honor to spend the day with Ms. Grimes. We appreciate the wisdom, the kindness and the time she took to share with us. Thanks also to Bloomsbury Publishing for sponsoring this visit, and to Mrs. Dalloway's Books for arranging it.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Kwame Alexander is in the Bay Area this weekend

Kwame Alexander's newest book The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life publishes today and it is fantastic!! Kwame combines stories from his own life, photographs, and inspiring quotes--inspiring young readers to reach for their goals and give it all they’ve got.
Kwame will be in the San Francisco Bay Area this weekend, with two public events. Come see him, friends, and bring your kids! Saturday, come to Mrs. Dalloway's in Berkeley at 12:00 noon, for a fun, casual visit. He'll be signing books and visiting with his many fans in Berkeley.

On Sunday, come to the San Francisco Public Library main branch at 2pm, where he will be in conversation with SF Human Rights Commission Director Sheryl Evans Davis. This event is free and open to the public.

In the meantime, have fun watching this new music video, as Kwame sings about The Playbook with original music by Randy Preston:

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, HMH Books for Young Readers, and I have already ordered many copies to give to friends and teachers. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Highly Illustrated Fiction: Supporting Developing Readers -- presentation at #NCTE16

Many of my students are drawn to books with lots of illustrations. I've often wondered how these books appeal to readers, especially those who are developing their reading skills. They certainly love the humor conveyed in pictures, but I think it's more.

Illustrations support our developing readers, giving them a moment to rest during the hard work of reading. They provide support as readers build a picture in their mind. A mentor of mine compared illustrations to a rock you can land on as you make your way across a stream. No wonder elementary school kids seek them out!

I'm excited to lead a conversation with four authors & illustrators at this week's annual convention of the National Council of Teacher of English. We'll talk about their craft as writers and illustrators, focusing on the way they use a combination of illustrations and text to tell their stories. I hope you can join us.
Abby Hanlon writes and illustrates the Dory Fantasmagory series. I absolutely adore Dory's energy and spirt. Abby fills her pages with childlike drawings that help convey they story and Dory's imagination.

Nick Bruel fills Bad Kitty with snarky humor that gets my students laughing and asking for more. What more could I want in a book? With swift pacing, lots of visual humor and high energy, Bad Kitty stories are a big hit in our library.

Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce tap into kids' love of animals and magic to bring us the character of Pip Bartlett who can talk to magical animals like unicorns, Fuzzles, Griffins and more. I love the way that Pip uses her knowledge and imagination to save her town from impending disaster.

Here is a booklist with recommendations for students who like lots of illustrations to help bring stories alive. These are not graphic novels, but rather hybrids that combine text and illustration.
click for printable PDF version
I really see illustrated fiction as appealing to students along a continuum, from early chapter books through much longer fiction. I hope you find some books here to engage your readers. Come join us for the conversation!

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Berkeley kids are clapping for Kekla!! Terrific author visit for 4th & 5th graders

High in the Berkeley hills, kids clapped like crazy for author Kekla Magoon today as she shared her Robyn Hoodlum fantasies--Shadows of Sherwood and Rebellion of Thieves--exciting, modern twists on classic Robin Hood adventures. Fourth and fifth graders wanted to know all about her writing process. They left not only eager to read her books, but also seeing themselves in her stories and as writers.
Kekla Magoon visits Berkeley's Cragmont Elementary School
People always want to know where her ideas come from, Kekla told students, and that isn't an easy thing to answer because sometimes they come when she's just walking down the street. "My ideas come from my experiences--things I know well, like my feelings, my life. But they also come from my questions. What would it be like to live in a different time, in a different place, as a different person?" What if are two powerful words.

Shadows of Sherwood began with these sort of questions: What if Robin Hood was a girl? A teen? Living in a modern city? What if she was biracial? "I loved the way Robin Hood is always looking out for everyone in his community and helping other people," Kekla told students. But I wanted to think about these stories I loved as a kid with a modern twist.

Robin Hood movies clearly are still popular with kids today -- the crowd loved it when Kekla showed images from different Robin Hood movies, and they instantly recognized the Disney version especially. Students also responded to the deeper ideas Kekla talked about.

"Robin Hood is essentially a social justice story about equality and giving people opportunity." Our students connected to the issues of civil rights, and some were surprised to learn that kids played an important role in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Fourth and fifth graders definitely think concretely, but they're ready to start considering bigger issues in the world.

"Did you get help writing your stories?" one student asked. "Yes! Definitely!" Kekla told the crowd. But there are different types of writing she does. Some writing is personal, just for herself--in a journal, or ideas she's trying out. Other writing is specifically for others to read, and so she has to think about if it communicates her ideas to other people. That's when she shares it with friends and her editor, so she can see if it's communicating the story and the ideas the way she wants it to.

Kekla ended the visit talking about rain, which becomes a symbol in the Robyn Hoodlum stories. A single raindrop doesn't affect you very much, but when a whole lot of raindrops fall it creates a big impact. That's what happens with social movements and protests, she told us. "Your part may seem small, but when you add all your voices together, they add up and can create a real impact."
Rebellion of Thieves, the second Robyn Hoodlum adventure, was published last week. I can't wait to hear how our students respond to both of these stories. Many of last year's fifth graders loved Shadows of Sherwood--they loved the exciting adventure and could connect to Robyn being such a gutsy girl. It's going to be terrific seeing a new group of 4th and 5th graders share in this excitement.

Many thanks to Kekla Magoon for taking the time to visit our students and share about her writing. Special thanks to her publisher Bloomsbury and our local bookstore Mrs. Dalloway's for making this visit possible. And extra special thanks to my colleagues J. Stewart, the Cragmont Librarian, and Becca Todd, our terrific district library director, who pulled off this visit with energy and enthusiasm! The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Bloomsbury. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Hilo: "Outstanding!!" shout 1st graders at author visit with Judd Winick (ages 6-10)

When a room full of 1st graders love something, you know right away. No question about it. When our fantastic Jefferson School librarian Adoria Williams asked the crowd of kids gathered on Monday what they thought of HILO, they shouted,
Hilo, the star of Judd Winick's new graphic novel series, often shouts the very same thing when he likes something. And you could tell that the 1st graders not only approve of Hilo's enthusiasm, they relate to it completely.
When Ms. Williams introduced our special guest for the day, cartoonist Judd Winick, the 1st graders all reacted with a Hilo-inspired, "AAAAHH!!!" -- a combination of excitement, awe and general OMG-I-can't-believe-this!

Judd connected immediately with our students, sharing his story about how he grew up as a fan of Star Wars, Looney Toons and King Kong. Our kids loved the references to popular culture (it's amazing how long-lasting these pop icons are) and were totally hooked. He also loved reading comic strips in newspapers, especially comics that made him laugh.

Hilo is the culmination of all that Winick has loved since he was a kid: super heroes, goofy jokes, action and adventure, and comics. Throw in two best friends, DJ and Gina, and there's someone for everyone to relate to. And it's a recipe that absolutely works for kids ages 6-10. This makes a great read-aloud for 1st graders, or a first "I-read-it-20-times" book for 3rd graders.

Our 1st graders were so engaged throughout Judd's presentation. Just look at the excitement in this kid's raised hand:
First graders were so engaged by Judd Winick's presentation
We were so lucky to have Judd Winick visit Jefferson School in Berkeley. Our librarian Ms. Williams and our first grade teacher Barb Wanger both read aloud Hilo, so kids were excited to meet Judd and knew the story and characters. The school was decorated with "Hilo for President" signs.

Not only are these kids now fans for life, but they also see that creating stories and comics is important. Parents who came along mentioned how much their kids have been talking about Hilo at home. This engagement was crucial for such a successful visit.
Adoria Williams, Judd Winick and Mary Ann Scheuer
I'd like to finish up with a few of the first grader's questions and comments (followed by Judd's replies):
  • "There's also a new book called Cat Kong!" and Judd replied, "I love a good monster story!"
  • "It's cool when Hilo fights the monsters!"
  • "What happened to the foot they put in the clubhouse?" and Judd encouraged them to look for clues at the end of the book.
  • "Why does Hilo only have four fingers" and Judd explained about the tradition in comics going back to early days of Steamboat Willie.
  • "Where Hilo lives looks a lot like San Francisco." "Yes it does!" exclaimed Judd. "I wanted to base it here because I live here, but then I decided that I really wanted snow to be part of the story. So I created a new place just for the setting of this story."
  • "I like drawing and making up stories too." "Can I give you a piece of advice?" asked Judd. " If you can, try to come up with the ending before you get too far along. I really wish someone had suggested that to me when I was younger."
  • "Can you hurry up and write the 5th book?!!"
  • And finally, "How does Hulk walk with no shoes?" "What a great question! The Hulk is my favorite character! I think his feet must be like size 36 and super tough, so he can walk over just about anything. Don't you think?!"
For everyone who's now interested in Hilo, here's an excerpt from Hilo: Saving the Whole Wide World, the second book in the series that is just out now:

Judd, we can't wait to invite you back to talk to more kids in Berkeley. Thank you so much for sharing your great comics and inspiring our growing readers. Many thanks to Random House Children's Books and Books, Inc. for making this visit possible. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Diverse Stories, Diverse Lives: Reflections on Sonia Manzano’s talk at the #AASL15 Author Banquet

Reading IS thinking. As we share books with our students, we talk with them and show them through these small (or grand) conversations that books and stories help us make sense of a very confusing world. We have a responsibility to find and promote books that speak to all of our students—not just the majority—and that help connect all of us as readers.
Sonia Manzano, Rita Williams-Garcia & Matt de la Peña at the 2015 AASL Authors Banquet
This weekend, I had the honor and responsibility of organizing the author events at the American Association of School Librarians National Conference (#aasl15). Matt de la Peña, Rita Williams-Garcia and Sonia Manzano spoke to a full banquet of librarians about their experiences growing up as young readers, and the impact they seek to make through their writing.

Sonia Manzano played Maria on Sesame Street for forty-four years, teaching us how to count in English and Spanish, how to say our ABCs, how to laugh with (and gently tease) our friends like Oscar the Grouch. Named as one of the “25 Greatest Latino Role Models Ever”, Sonia has retired from her television role and is devoting more time to her writing. Her memoir, Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx, reveals life-changing moments in her early life that led to her later success.

As a young person, Sonia never felt represented in the media she watched or the books she read. She told us:
“In all my viewing I never saw anybody who looked like me or lived in a neighborhood like the one I lived in. Not being represented in the media made me feel invisible.”
The books that teachers shared were no better--Dick and Jane’s family was nothing like her own. Reading and writing were not things that happened at home growing up—curling up with a book was seen as lazy. But Sonia has always been drawn to the stories of others.

Books connect us as people because we see pieces of ourselves in the stories we read. Manzano shared with us teacher Monica Ediger’s thought that the only way to help young people do better than previous generations is to share “sensitive mirrors of others into distant tragedies.” Books can help young readers understand the plight of the less fortunate, help them think about the confusing world around them.

As we read and share stories, however, we must make sure our diverse students are represented in these stories, not just inviting them to think about someone else’s experience. Sonia told us:
“There is something so important about seeing yourself and your own experiences reflected in media. As much as I saw pieces of myself in these other characters, it wasn’t until I was taken to see West Side Story that I realized that the world of creating art was accessible to me and that I could actually be represented on stage and in books the way I was, not just as part of someone else’s experience.”
Whenever we choose a book to recommend, whether we are a parent, teacher or librarian, we are making a statement about what stories we value. We must continue to be inclusive, to challenge ourselves to think beyond stereotypes. In our own reading, we must strive to find stories in which we see our children’s lives and experiences validated. Sonia concluded her speech by reminding us of this:
“When you make decisions on what books to share, think of the child who doesn’t see himself reflected in society, books that will be the beginning of an experience and not the end, and books that are full of emotion.”
Create a conversation about the stories you read, around the dinner table, around the classroom rug, at the circulation desk. Reading IS thinking, and our students will surprise us every day with the power and depth of their ideas.

Last week I shared about the amazing impact that Matt de la Peña and Rita Williams-Garcia had on our audience at #AASL15. Thank you so much to Scholastic for sponsoring Sonia Manzano this weekend. It was a truly pleasure having him as our guest.

If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Caretakers of our readers: Reflections on Rita Williams-Garcia’s talk at the #AASL15 Author Banquet

Day in and day out, school librarians help children find books that speak to them. We help our students grow as young readers, but even more than that we create memories each and every day. In doing this, we have a responsibility as caretaker of our children, finding and promoting books that speak to all of our students—not just the majority of our students.

This weekend, I had the honor and responsibility of organizing the author events at the American Association of School Librarians National Conference (#aasl15). Matt de la Peña, Rita Williams-Garcia and Sonia Manzano spoke to a full banquet of librarians about their experiences growing up as young readers, and the impact they seek to make through their writing.
Matt de la Peña, Rita Williams-Garcia & Sonia Manzano at AASL banquet 

Rita Williams-Garcia sparkles with energy, laughter and heart every time I meet her or read her stories. Rita received the Newbery Honor and the Coretta Scott King Award for the outstanding novel One Crazy Summer, and was a National Book Award finalist. Delphine, Vonetta and Fern’s story continues in P.S. Be Eleven, and now their story comes to a close with this year’s Gone Crazy in Alabama.

Rita began by sharing her early memories, growing up in the cocoon of her family’s love. At the age of 2, her family moved from New York to Arizona, traveling that long way by car. Rita described traveling through the South as the first time she saw her mother frightened: crying and fearful when the police stopped them. They didn’t stay in hotels, but were welcomed into other black families’ homes along the way—something that Rita didn’t think about at the time. As she said, when you are a child, your eyes are open and your memories stay with you.

As young children, we only know our direct experiences. Our children notice race, but might not know how to process their thoughts. In first grade, Rita’s teacher read wonderful stories—but when she read the stories of Little Black Sambo, Rita clearly remembers feeling that her classmates were laughing at Little Black Sambo, feeling different from her classmates because she was one of the only black children in her class.

When we share stories with our students, we must think about the memories we are creating. How are we validating their experiences? How are we inviting them into the conversation of stories?

Librarians and teachers are the caretakers of our children’s reading lives, as teacher and friend Donalyn Miller so wonderfully said on the NerdyBookClub. Every time we recommend books to children, we are inviting them to see themselves in stories. The stories we buy and collect must have many entry points, must have many different types of characters, must reflect the diversity of broader world around us.

We do this, as Rita reminded us, by being honest with our young people about the world around us, being authentic, and engaging in the hard conversations of our times. I love this tweet from Rita. These are turbulent times, full of strong emotions. When we have honest, caring discussions together, we can all move forward.
All week I am sharing about the amazing impact that Matt de la Peña, Rita Williams-Garcia and Sonia Manzano had on our audience at #AASL15. Thank you so much to HarperCollins for sponsoring Rita Williams-Garcia this weekend. It was a truly pleasure having her as our guest.
If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Inviting all our readers into stories: Reflections on Matt de la Peña’s talk at the #AASL15 Author Banquet

As school librarians, we have the honor and responsibility of knowing all of the students in our school. We watch them grow as young readers, we share their excitement finding books that speak to them and light a spark in their eyes. But we also have a responsibility of finding and promoting books that speak to all of our students—not just the majority of our students.

This weekend, I had the honor and responsibility of organizing the author events at the American Association of School Librarians National Conference (#aasl15). Matt de la Peña, Rita Williams-Garcia and Sonia Manzano spoke to a full banquet of librarians about their experiences growing up as young readers, and the impact they seek to make through their writing.

Matt de la Peña has received much praise and recognition for his realistic fiction for young adults, including his standout Mexican WhiteBoy. I have been thrilled that he has begun writing more for younger children, and have absolutely loved this year’s stellar picture book Last Stop on Market Street.

When Matt was growing up, he didn’t find many stories that spoke to him, didn’t like reading or writing—until he read A House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros. This slim, powerful collection of stories spoke to him so deeply that he read it over and over again, nearly memorizing it. The story “Darius and the Clouds” particularly stayed with him, inviting him into the world of poetry, giving him permission to see poetry as something he could try.

Was it that Cisneros provided a mirror for Matt, or that she understood Matt’s heartbeat? She spoke in a language that he understood, filled with metaphors and imagery that connected to his experiences as a young Latino growing up in the United States.

And now when he writes, Matt wants to create stories that have diverse characters, yes, but really with characters full of heart, full of complex emotions, full of language and experiences from a wide range of backgrounds. Diversity is not the issue these characters wrestle with, but rather part of the fabric of their lives.

As we select stories to share with our students, we need to provide a number of ways in for our students, not just thinking about their race, but also thinking about what might create a spark for them, what helps them feel a character’s heartbeat, what helps them hear the language of their soul. It is essential that our stories have diverse characters, that we acknowledge and affirm our children’s lives and experiences, and that we say again and again that stories are for all of us.

Later this week I will share about the amazing impact that Rita Williams-Garcia and Sonia Manzano had on our audience at #AASL15. Thank you so much to Penguin Random House for sponsoring Matt de la Pena this weekend. It was a truly pleasure having him as our guest.

If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Making Time for Rhyme -- guest post by Susan B. Katz

I wrote to author Susan B. Katz, author of ABC School's For Me and several other books, asking her to talk with parents about the power of rhyming stories.

I notice that so many parents love reading these aloud to their kids. Why is that? Why do these stories play such an important part in children's language development? Can listening to stories actually help kids learn to read, even if they aren't reading the words at all? And what do you think makes the difference between a good rhyming book and a bad one -- what do you look for when you read aloud to kids?

Thank you, Susan, for your delightfully fun and thoughtful response.

Make Time For Rhyme
By Susan B. Katz

I grew up on a diet of books by the master rhymer, Dr. Seuss. I devoured Green Eggs and Ham, the Sneetches and that crazy Cat on the Loose. As a teacher for 20 years, I did lots of “rug” read alouds. Rhyme sure does please the little listener crowds. Parents will find that rhyme gives students a feeling of success. Children are able to predict the last word, they love to shout out a guess. That is what’s called a Cloze, and yes, it’s spelled with a Z. In my books, predictable rhyming patterns make clozing easy. Take for example, in MY MAMA EARTH, my second title. Students guess the ending words; that brain engagement is vital. I say, “My Mama makes the hippos snore and mighty lions proudly ________.” Clozing keeps them involved and on their toes so reading isn’t a bore. My most recent book, ABC SCHOOL’S FOR ME, features bears, at school, making all sorts of creations. Students also predict the rhyming words using the colorful illustrations.

Authors are discouraged from writing in rhyme by most publishers, of course. Editors receive a lot of rhyme that is, what we call, “forced.” But, there are those of us who continue to publish in rhyme, confident that children’s love of verse will stand the test of time. Rhyme helps students learn language patterns like: might, tight, bright, sight. This impacts their spelling, long term, so they get more words right. You can teach them that rhyming words live in a family. The “cat, sat, mat” words fill up the leaves on the “AT” family tree. Research shows that children who detect rhyme orally in their early years are much more successful as the time for reading print nears. Even “pre-readers” enjoy rhyme although they’re not decoding books yet. And, as for that Common Core rhyming Kinder standard—consider it met! Rhyming is fun and can even be silly sometimes. Dr. Seuss still offers the best example of funny, whimsical rhymes. Novels in verse are becoming more popular for sure. The most recent Newbery was awarded to THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander.

The English language has so many exceptions to the rules. English Language Learners benefit from having rhyme as one of their literacy “unlocking” tools. I have written all four of my books in verse. Thinking in rhyme is both a blessing and a curse. I rhymed all of my middle and high school speeches when I was young. Rhyme and word play just roll off my tongue. Children like songs and poems, both of which are different forms of rhyme. Prose has a purpose and place too—you can’t rhyme all the time. But, rhyming helps children tune their ears and change out sounds. Rhyming is a natural part of jump roping on playgrounds. “Ms. Mary Mack Mack Mack, all dressed in black, black, black.” I probably haven’t jumped to that since I was very small. But, the rhyme makes it easy for me to recall. For songs that are on your phone, the radio, TV or in a Disney movie, rhyme makes words tickle the tongue, melts meaning into your memory. There is so much power in the rhyming word. For a child’s language development, it is like the wings of a bird.

Can you imagine a world without songs and chants? Rhyming invites imagination, it welcomes, it enchants. You’d be hard pressed to find a child who doesn’t like to play, with words, that is, like: say, day, way, today! I will continue to be a champion for writing and reading rhyming stories. The love lasts forever: college kids listen to rap (a.k.a rhyme) in their dormitories. So, find a good rhyming book that sings and allows kids to cloze. (Once in a while, you can still read them prose.) Rhyme is the foundation of word patterns and song. It makes students feels successful—how could that ever be wrong? Most importantly, rhyme gives children a love of language and reading. You feed your child three meals a day-- consider rhyme a literary feeding. It fuels your child’s brain; helps expand their vocabulary. Rhyme makes reading sound much less scary. Build a banquet of books for those picky readers at bedtime. I promise you, they will be delighted if you just feed them, I mean, read them, rhyme!

Many thanks to Susan B. Katz for sharing her thoughts on rhyme. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Susan B. Katz, via Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, June 1, 2015

Bay Area Book Festival with over 300 authors: June 6th & 7th

Local book festivals are such a treat--especially when they feature plenty of children's authors! The inaugural Bay Area Book Festival kicks off this weekend, bringing more than 300 authors and storytellers, along with a host of fun activities and exhibits.

There is an outdoor Children’s Stage and a Teen Stage featuring bestselling authors. It's an absolutely terrific line-up and is expected to draw a huge crowd. Just take a look at some of these highlights on the Children's Stage:
Don't forget to check out the schedule for the main indoor stage, which also features lots of family events.
  • Saturday, 10:00 am: Making Marvelous Middle-Grade Fiction
  • Saturday, 4:00 pm: East Bay Young Writers Competition Winners
  • Sunday, 2:00 pm: Raising a Reader Presents Family Strategies
The festival is collaborating with the East Bay Children's Book Project, an organization which helps promote literacy by putting books in the hands of children with little or no access to them. They are generously providing a free book for every child at the festival, making plans for giving away at least 14,000 books. Wow.
Lacuna, Bay Area Book Festival
I can't wait to see Lacuna, the public art installation that's going up for the festival. The project is an interactive installation made entirely of books. Over 50,000 books have been donated by the Internet Archive. Lacuna is a library whose very walls are made of books that people can peruse and take. As people explore it, moving, removing and adding books, its very shape will change.

Please tell Bay Area families and friends about this amazing festival.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Art of Picture Books: Terrific visit with Lisa Brown (ages 7-10)

Did you know picture books are not just for little kids? Do you love picture books with all your heart? My students and I do--they make us smile, they make us want to share books with friends, and they draw us into reading them again and again.

Last week we had a terrific visit with artist & author Lisa Brown. Our kids were fascinated with the books she shared--hers and many other favorites--and had so many questions for her. If you have the opportunity for an author visit, I highly recommend bringing Lisa to your school.
Lisa Brown at Emerson
All month, we've been talking about noticing details in picture books, especially around characters. Our 3rd and 4th graders have been identifying how characters feel, and then explaining the details that they notice to support their ideas. In art class our students have been drawing cartoon figures with different expressions, putting into action what they've been noticing in their reading.

Just look at this detail from Molly Bang's When Sophie Gets Angry: Really, Really Angry. A 3rd grader wrote: Sophie is "angry and jealous"-- look at "her hair is up, eyebrows down sloping, shouting." 
Supporting their opinions with this type of clear details is just the sort of practice that they need when they start writing literary essays. But even more importantly, in my opinion, it helps them read carefully and empathize with characters.

Another pair of 3rd graders loved sharing A Ball for Daisy, by Chris Raschka. Our students worked on developing descriptive words for character's emotions -- not just saying that Daisy was sad, but that she was "depressed, melancholy, unhappy." 
detail from A Ball for Daisy, by Chris Raschka
I just love this example from Mo Willem's Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, where students described the mother dinosaur as "sneaky, tricky and mysterious."
detail from Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, by Mo Willems
Lisa started off her presentation by sharing picture books that make us feel like we're going on a treasure hunt. Kids know Where's Waldo, but books like Benjamin Chaud's wonderful The Bear's Song incorporate this treasure hunt into the essential plot of the story. 

We had great fun looking at Lisa's recent books Vampire Boy's Good Night and Emily's Blue Period, noticing the details she used to add depth and meaning to the story. We had already read these stories before her visit, so students loved showing her the details they had already noticed (the butler has a bandaid on his neck!) and hearing about others that helped us see more into the story.
Lisa Brown shows her sketchbook to students
Finally, Lisa shared her sketchbook--explaining how she draws every day. And she celebrated drawings our students had done, sketching all sorts of emotions and expressions.

Sending out huge thanks to Lisa Brown for taking the time to visit, and to the Berkeley Public School Fund and the Emerson PTA for sponsoring this author visit.If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Poetry in motion: Terrific virtual visit with Kwame Alexander (ages 10-14)

"Oh man, I love that book." -- that's Theo, one of my 5th graders, when I told them last week that we were going to Skype with Kwame Alexander, the author of The Crossover. How cool is that? Just hearing Theo sigh and declare his love for a book was enough to melt my heart. But now we are all soaring, with all the inspiration, smiles and love from our visit this week.

Huge thanks go out to Kwame Alexander -- first for writing a book with so much heart, so much swag, so much appeal that it's got kids passing it from friend to friend. But also for taking his time to visit with us.

You can get a sense of what it's like for our students to Skype with Mr. Alexander in this picture below. Two fifth grade classes gathered in the library (about 50 kids), of whom about 15 had already read The Crossover. We first listened to Kwame tell us about the book, but the bulk of our time was spent asking questions back and forth.
Skyping in the Emerson library with Kwame Alexander
As students started asking questions, I captured some of what Kwame was saying. I'd like to share a few excerpts here.
"Basketball is like poetry in motion."

Asking Mr. Alexander a question
"I was inspired to write this book by my relationship with dad. He was a really good basketball player, like Josh & JB's father, but I wasn't. I played tennis instead. I also wanted to this because I love basketball so much. And I wanted to write a book that boys (and girls too) would really want to read, and I knew that basketball would draw a lot of kids in."

"Why did you write this story as a novel in verse? Because poetry is the coolest form of writing on the planet, and I happen to be the coolest dude on the planet! But it's more than that -- poetry is rhythmic and concise, and when you do it write, poetry has a lot of swag. This is just like basketball -- players have rhythm, movement, a lot of swag. A novel in verse also doesn't have a lot of words on a page, so kids who don't like to read won't be intimidated by this book. That was important to me."
One student asked what the first novel in verse was that he read, and Kwame talked about how Love That Dog by Sharon Creech was just amazing. Then he asked her what other novel in verses she liked. When she told him that she loved Words With Wings, by Nikki Grimes, Kwame took out his phone and texted her! Then he took this selfie to show Nikki!!
We asked him about what you do when you get stuck writing. Kwame asked if any of us played soccer. When you play soccer, you do a lot of running, but you aren’t always scoring goals. Writing is like that. You write and write and write, and eventually something will click and you’ll score. The Crossover took Kwame five years to write.

Here’s how he goes about writing a poem.
  1. Somebody tells me what I have to write about, or I have to figure out my topic
  2. I make a list of as many words I can think of about that topic. I write down 30-50 words.
  3. I think about the structure -- what kind of poem am I going to write? Maybe I’m going to borrow a poem, model this poem on a poem I really like.
  4. Then I take my list of words and start fitting them into that structure. I add verbs or adjectives to link the words together, connect them, and keep playing.
Special thanks to Kwame for taking time out of his writing day to visit with us. And special thanks also go to the Berkeley Public Schools Fund and our school PTA that made this visit possible. If you're at all inclined to try out Skyping with an author, reach out and see if they're interested.

If I could, I would send every 5th grade teacher a copy of The Crossover. Not only can it capture kids' attention, but it holds them there with an emotionally resonant story told with powerful, crafted language. The review copy came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Fit for a wanna-be king: Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents Macbeth (ages 8-12)

Do your kids love graphic novels? Do you know any kid who loves the spotlight or has fun when their friends grab center stage? The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review is a new series of graphic novels that my students are giving a round of applause for the way it combines humor, theatrics, tragedy and puns. It would make a great gift either for comic-book fans or theater fans.
The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents: Macbeth
by Ian Lendler
illustrated by Zack Giallongo
First Second, 2014
Your local library
ages 8-12
"Macbeth, the hero of our story, the greatest warrior in the land."
When the zoo shuts for the night, the animals gather together and put on a show. The lion makes a natural mighty Macbeth, full of swagger and a taste for power. My students were easily able to imagine why such a beast would want to be king--and Lender's version shares this classic play in a form that is very kid-friendly. Here's how he adapts the witches' famous song which charms Macbeth, setting the plot in motion:
"Double, double,
toil and trouble,
fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Eat the king,
the plot will thicken,
go on Macbeth,
he tastes like chicken."
Lendler mixes humor and puns throughout Shakespeare's bloody tragedy, giving young readers a real sense of the classic play but making it very age-appropriate. Giallongo's illustrations capture Macbeth's slide into gluttony perfectly, make light of the witches and add plenty of ketchup to keep the tragedy at bay. My students definitely give this version of Shakespeare a hearty round of applause.

We were lucky enough to have Ian Lendler visit Emerson last week to share his book with our 4th and 5th graders. He starts out his presentation with a loud bugle calling everyone's attention (see below), just as the young boys did during Shakespeare's time. He shares an overview of the story with students, emphasizing some of the lessons of the story. Our kids highly recommend his visit to other schools, especially for kids who like funny comic books and putting on their own plays.
Ian Lendler at Emerson
Are you looking for a holiday gift to add to the fun? I know my students would love their own stadium horn to call everyone to their performances. They also might want a mighty robe, fit for a king. Check these ideas out:
The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, First Second. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Mending our hearts: how do we teach kids to be kind to one another, guest post by Julie Sternberg

My heart is feeling very full right now, and I hope you'll join me reading this special guest post. Julie Sternberg recently asked me to help celebrate her new book, Friendship Over: The Top-Secret Diary of Celie Valentine. I said yes right away, since my students love love love Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie. But I decided on a spin -- I wanted to hear a little more from Julie about her thoughts on friendship and how we can help kids be good friends.
Friendship Over
The Top-Secret Diary of Celie Valentine
by Julie Sternberg
illustrated by Johanna Wright
Boyds Mills, 2014
Your local library
ages 8-11
Berkeley elementary schools have just adopted the Toolbox Project social-emotional learning curriculum. As our districts' announcement stated, Toolbox "teaches critical social competencies necessary for academic and life success such as: resiliency, self-management, and responsible decision-making skills." But really, it teaches us how to be good friends, how to create a community together.

I shared the Toolbox Project with Julie and asked her which tools helped her character, Celie. You see, Celie has trouble with her friends -- troubles that I just know my students will relate to. I was very touched by Julie's reply:
Mending our hearts, by Julie Sternberg

I wish I could go back in time and give this toolbox to my fourth-grade teacher to use with our class. She struggled and struggled to help us resolve conflicts and manage our emotions. She didn’t have difficulty because she was inexperienced or untalented—far from it. Our class just somehow tended to bring out the worst in each other.

Our teacher led several discussions on kindness and respect, but they made little difference. Then a boy grabbed a girl in an extremely sensitive, private area. We all found it horrifying. After that, our teacher took an unusual step. She cut the biggest heart I’ve ever seen out of butcher paper. Then she split that heart into two jagged pieces. She taped one on the far left side of one of our classroom walls, and the other on the far right. When she’d finished taping, she told us that the heart of our class had been broken. Only by being very kind to each other could we mend it.

From that time on, at the end of every school day, she’d give an official assessment of our behavior. If we’d been kind to each other, she’d move the pieces of broken heart closer together. If not, she’d inch them farther apart. When the heart was finally whole again, we had a party with lots of candy.
Julie Sternberg
Part of me loves this broken-heart strategy. When my daughters have long and needless fights, I consider cutting an enormous heart in two and taping the pieces far from each other in our apartment. But I know the strategy is flawed. Because I don’t remember how my classmates and I managed to be kind enough to each other to mend our collective heart. I just remember succeeding, and getting candy.

Instead I now see that I should tape up in my apartment the Twelve Tools for Learning, so we can all practice the skills that would help us manage our emotions and prevent conflicts from escalating. I particularly love the “Quiet/Safe Place” tool. I love the idea of saying, in the heat of a senseless battle, “Let’s all three go find a ‘place of rest and peace where we can gather ourselves.’” It seems so much nicer than shouting, “BOTH OF YOU GO TO YOUR ROOMS! NOW!” Which I might have done once or twice, or a hundred times, in the past.
Celie Valentine

It would have been interesting to use the Twelve Tools before I wrote FRIENDSHIP OVER, the first book in the series THE TOP-SECRET DIARY OF CELIE VALENTINE. Celie has all kinds of difficulty managing her emotions, and I would love to have her try the tools. The “Garbage Can Tool” might be my favorite for her: “I let the little things go—Put it in the garbage can and walk on by.” This would NOT be easy for Celie (though it would certainly be helpful). And it would be so much fun to write the scenes in which she tries, and fails at first, and ultimately succeeds.

It’s something I’ll keep pondering. Because there are Celie sequels to come!
I know my students are really going to enjoy reading Celie. She struggles with how to be a friend, how to be true to her own feelings but respectful of others. I wonder if Celie uses drawing and writing in her diary as a way to find a "quiet/safe place" -- somewhere she can go in her mind to sort through her feelings, calm down, and remove herself from conflict.

Please enjoy sharing Friendship Over: The Top-Secret Diary of Celie Valentine with kids who like realistic fiction. As the starred review from Kirkus says, "This satisfying slice-of-life story about the permutations of friendship and family resonates."

About the author:
Julie Sternberg is the author of the best-selling Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie and its sequels, Like Bug Juice on a Burger and Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake. Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie is a Gryphon Award winner and a Texas Bluebonnet Award finalist; Like Bug Juice on a Burger is a Gryphon Honor Book, a Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards Nominee, and an Illinois Monarch Award Finalist. Formerly a public interest lawyer, Julie is a graduate of the New School's MFA program in Creative Writing, with a concentration in writing for children. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York. For more information about her life and work and to download free activity materials based on her books, visit her website:

Check out the other stops on Julie’s blog tour!
Mon, Sept 29: Mother Daughter Book Club
Tues, Sept 30: 5 Minutes for Mom
Wed, Oct 1: Sharpread
Thurs, Oct 2: KidLit Frenzy
Fri, Oct 3: The Hiding Spot
Sat, Oct 4: Booking Mama
Mon, Oct 6: Ms. Yingling Reads
Tues, Oct 7: GreenBeanTeenQueen
Wed, Oct 8: Great Kid Books
Thurs, Oct 9: Teach Mentor Texts
Fri, Oct 10: Unleashing Readers
Sat, Oct 11: Bermuda Onion
Illustrations copyright © 2014 b Johanna Wright, used with permission of the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Boyds Mills Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books